Rollicking good ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ at Olney Theatre Center

Natalie Weiss as hit songwriter Carole King carried each song with confidence befitting a rockstar.

Olney Theatre Center is closing out its 85th season with Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on its Roberts Mainstage. Whether you’re a longtime fan of Carole King or think you’ve never heard a song of hers in your life (trust me: you have), director Amy Anders Corcoran’s production is a must-see. The clever book by Douglas McGrath weaves a story through some of the greatest hits from the ’60s and ’70s composed by Carole King & Gerry Goffin and their friends Cynthia Weil & Barry Man (yes, you know them, too).The book and music combine with cohesive direction from Anders Corcoran, delightful choreography by Ashleigh King, and a phenomenal cast to make this a jukebox musical that will stick with you long after you leave the theater.

The story opens with the onset of Carole King’s career at just sixteen years old when she sells her first song to Broadway music producer Don Kirshner (embodied with brilliant comedic timing by DMV theater veteran Bobby Smith). Though a talented composer, King, played by vocal superstar Natalie Weiss, learns that she needs an equally skilled lyricist if she’s going to make it. She finds her other half in all ways in Gerry Goffin (superbly acted by Michael Perrie Jr.), and what follows is an insight into the creative process of their time. A good-spirited competition for #1 hits with writing duo Cynthia Weil and Barry Man motivates musical numbers performed by the artists who made them famous: The Drifters, The Righteous Brothers, and the Shirelles, to name a few. We continue to follow the songs through the evolution of the music industry from records to television, and into a whole new sound that places challenges on the relationships and careers of our composing duos.

Natalie Weiss as Carole King in ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography.

The two acts of the evening are split between the musical styles of the era, with the first encompassing the pop rock of the early 1960s. The set, designed with enormous versatility by Debra Kim Sivigny, filled the act with theatrical surprises as it shifted with flair from a simple living room to a music studio on Broadway, to a television performance venue. The design helped contribute to a larger-than-life quality to the production, and the ensemble more than rose to the occasion to fill this playground.

They delivered some standout performances in this half, with The Drifters eliciting the most cheering from the crowd. Brought to life by performers Quadray Brown, Montel B. Butler, Ian Anthony Coleman, and Jay Frisby, The Drifters executed tight choreography with electric stage presence and jaw-dropping vocal abilities. Their numbers were complemented by a more quiet charisma from a delight-inducing performance by Kurt Boehm and Connor James Reilly as the Righteous Brothers in “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” And the whole ensemble, led by powerhouse Ariana Caldwell, brought the house down with “The Locomotion.”

The speed of the story slowed in the second act naturally as the lens focused in on King’s journey toward becoming her own solo artist and the music industry’s changing landscape. But as the musical numbers dialed back in keeping with the narrative, the costuming continued to ramp. I had noticed the detail and range required of costume designer Kendra Rai for Act I, but the approach of the 1970s in Act II drove home the exceptional task of dressing this production. Rai designed for the late 1950s right on through to the onset of the 1970s. To put a finer point on it: the wigs alone required for this sweep of fashion deserved their own curtain call and applause by the evening’s end (with credit due to wig designers Larry Peterson and Alia Radabaugh).

Throughout both acts, highly skilled performances by both Weiss as King and Perrie Jr. as Goffin kept the narrative arc of the production afloat. While Perrie Jr. delivered some of the most grounded acting of the evening (along with Donna Migliaccio, perfect as King’s mother, Genie Klein, and Bobby Smith as producer Don Krishner), Weiss delivered on the tall order of playing legend Carole King. Although the buoyant nature of King’s real-life persona may have pulled some depth from Weiss’ performance at moments I felt required a little more weight, the surety and seeming effortlessness of her vocal technique carried each song with confidence befitting a rockstar.

TOP (Counter-clockwise): Simone Brown, Kalen Robinson, Ariana Caldwell, and Kaiyla Gross as the Shirelles; ABOVE: Natalie Weiss as Carole King, with the ensemble, in ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.’ Photos by Teresa Castracane Photography.

And while King and Goffin provided the main narrative, at least half the charm of this tale came from the duo of Cynthia Weil (a spunky Nikki Mirza with a killer voice) and Barry Mann (genuinely acted and exceptionally sung by Calvin McCullough). The pair created a strong chemistry rooted in well-delivered lines and equally stellar vocals, providing an excellent counterpoint to the lives and working styles of their friends. I leaned forward a little in my seat each time they were onstage, eager to see what they would pull off next.

I defy you to leave this show without a smile on your face and a song or two stuck in your head for the remainder of the summer. Beyond a rollicking good time, Beautiful is an excellent way to grow appreciation for King’s artistry and lifework. I’ll be looking forward to revisiting her music, and also keeping an eye out to see what each cast member in the production is up to next — they really are talents who should not be missed.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical plays through August 25, 2024, at Olney Theatre Center, Roberts Mainstage, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD. Tickets ($31–$101) are available online or through the box office at 301-924-3400, open from 12 pm – 6 pm Wednesdays through Saturdays. Discounts are available for groups, seniors, military, and students (for details click here).

The digital program for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is available here.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Book by Douglas McGrath
Words and Music by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil
Music by arrangement with Sony/ATV Music Publishing
Music Directed by Christopher Youstra
Choreographed by Ashleigh King
Directed by Amy Anders Corcoran
Scenic Design by Debra Kim Sivigny
Costume Design by Kendra Rai
Wig Design by Larry Perterson and Alia Radabuagh

CAST
Carole King: Natalie Weiss
Genie Klein: Donna Migliaccio
Betty / TV Stage Manager: Victoria Gómez
Neil Sedaka / Nick: Conor James Reilly
Lucille: Kaiyla Gross
Don Kirshner: Bobby Smith
Gerry Goffin: Michael Perrie Jr.
The Drifters: Quadray Brown, Montel B. Butler, Ian Anthony Coleman, Jay Frisby
Cynthia Weil: Nikki Mirza
Barry Mann: Calvin McCullough
The Shirelles: Simone Brown, Ariana Caldwell, Kaiyla Gross, Kalen Robinson
Janelle Woods: Kalen Robinson
Little Eva: Ariana Caldwell
The Righteous Brothers: Kurt Boehm, Connor James Reilly
“One Fine Day” Backup Singers: Simone Brown, Ariana Caldwell, Kaiyla Gross
Marilyn Ward: Lily Burka
“Uptown Singer”: Simone Brown
Lou Adler: Kurt Boehm
Sound Engineer: Montel B. Butler
“Natural Woman” Backup Singers: Lily Burka, Victoria Gomez, Kaiyla Gross

3 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you so much for a stellar review! I really appreciate the kind words and thank you for coming!

    One small thing, my name is spelled wrong in the middle there but otherwise 🥹❤️🙌

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